The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv commemorates a unique story of Jews in Aden who’s history goes back as the second or third century.
Aden, located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula of what is now modern-day Yemen, had a Jewish culture that was distinct, with its own way of life and unique customs.
Letters discovered in the Cairo Geniza attest to a Jewish community in Aden as far back as the eleventh century.
In 1489, Rabbi Obadiah di Bertinora described the Jews of Aden as being knowledgeable in the writings of Rabbi Alfasi and especially well-versed Maimonides.
Digs at Beit She’arim in Israel provide proof that Jews were settled in Aden, Yemen in the second and third centuries.
In the eleventh century, Aden became crucial as a port and the Jews became heavily involved in international trade and as a result they were able to support generously the yeshivot of Babylonia, Egypt, and the Land of Israel.
From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, Aden was the center of Yemeni Jewish life.
Their influence spread as far as Persia and Babylonia and throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
However, city declined under the Ottoman Empire due to disputes with the Portuguese regarding shipping routes.
By the time Aden became a British colony in 1839 it was little more than a small fishing village with about 600 residence, half of which were Jews.
However, a British Colony it grew from a small village of 600 residence to a community with 8,000 Jews.
The Jewish community expanded, due immigration from countries including Yemen, India, Iraq ,and the neighboring port city of Mocha.
Although they were separated, Adeni Jews depended on the greater Yemenite community for spiritual guidance, receiving their authorizations from Yemeni rabbis.
However, Adenite culture became distinct from other Yemenite Jewish culture due to British control of the city and Indian-Iraqi influence as well as recent arrivals from Persia and Egypt.
For over a century, the Jews of Aden were able to free from persecution.
Then, the UN approved for Israel becoming an independent state, and the local Arabs rioted for three days and murdering 82 Jews.
They also destroyed and looted many Jewish homes, schools, businesses, and synagogues.
More than 100 Jewish shops were looted and 30 houses burned.
In the Arab town of Sheikh Othman, which had a large Jewish compound, a military contingent evacuated 750 Jews to safety, and the several who wouldn’t leave their homes and were later found dead.
The British government was severely embarrassed by the riots and the Jews Aden no longer safe.
Most of the Jewish community left and moved to Israel.
However, there was still a small community until 1967 when the British withdrew from the area.
At this point the remaining Jews moved to London or Israel.
As of 2004, there were 6,000 Adenites in Israel and 1,500 in London where Aden traditions and cultures continue.
The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum is located on the ground floor of Bet Knesset Kol Yehud.
The land it is built on was purchased by Yehuda Menachem Messa, community leader in Aden during the early 1920s, and his son who settled in Israel, built the shul in 1938.
The museum was established in 2013 to record memories before they are forgotten.
It chronicles the life of the Jews of Aden under the British from 1839 to 1967.
It does this through photographs, religious artifacts including a very rare Torah crown, and objects from homes and businesses of the time.
There is also rare film footage of the largest of the seven synagogues that existed in Aden, which had seating for a thousand people.
Bet Knesset Kol Yehuda is in use every day and can be a part of your museum visit.
Entrance is free, though donations welcome.
See the museum’s Facebook page for visiting hours and upcoming events.